Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nagraj: Nagayan: Varankand and Grahankand

Nagayan is a limited series of the Nagraj franchise which retells/adapts the Ramayan into the Raj Comics universe. However, Nagayan does not happen in the 'contemporary' Nagraj time line but in the future in year 2023.

The artwork for this series is done by Anupam Sinha and is what Nagraj fans have come to recognize as quintessentially Nagraj. The drawing is imaginative and full of detail but does not render human figures realistically. If I were to describe it in one word, I'd call it 'bulbous'. There is an abundance of roundness in the artwork.

The plot also is quintessentially Nagraj. Nagraj plots have a template. It is this – Nagraj is faced is some sort of a supernatural foe. Nagraj spends his time dueling with this unworldly monster and uses all his powers one by one. But obviously the monster doesn't die. But in the process, Nagraj is able to discover the 'rules' according to which the monster functions (it may be made of ice and hence can be killed by fire) and subsequently thinks up a flaw in these rules. Nagraj then uses his powers to kill the monster. Nagayan follows the same template.

Where Nagayan differs is in trying to retell the Ramayan. So in Varankand and Grahankand, we see Nagraj (Ram) and Dhruv (Lakshman) being trained by Baba Gorakhnath (Vishwamitr) in use of divine arms and ammunition. Then they go to the swayamvar of nag-princess Visarpi where they defeat Kroorpasha (Ravan) and Nagraj marries Visarpi. In between we also have Mahatma Kaaldoot getting angry at Nagraj destroying the divine sword and we have the Dhruv-Kaaldoot samvad, a counterpart of the Lakshman-Parshuram samvad.

But the comic follows Ramayan only loosely. Nagraj is not loyal to just one wife but ends up marrying two women by a quirk of fate. Visarpi is not the subservient Sita but an assertive and powerful nagrani. Overall, the women characters are much more independent (although still stereotypical) and this is to be appreciated.

I also liked the way the character of Ravan has been interpreted. Nagpasha, Nagraj's arch rival is split under the effect of Black Powers into three. Kroorpasha – pure evil, Suptpasha – pure laziness and Bheerupasha – pure fearfulness. Clearly the analogy is to Ravan, Kumbhakarna and Vibhishan. I had never thought of these three as aspects of the same psyche in Ramayan but now that Raj Comics gives us that pov, it's worth a thought. (cf. The four hobbits and gollum can be seen as aspects of the same psyche in LOTR.)

I would have liked these stories more if the artwork was better. On my Raj Comics scale, I rate them 7/10 mostly because of the plot.

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